Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (2023)

If you work with digital media, there's a good chance that at some point you'll need to purchase an SD (or "Secure Digital") card for your device. Alldronesand smartphones forAction-Kamerasjnormal camerasUse SD cards in one way or another, and while buying a card might seem trivial, buying the right card for the job at hand is absolutely crucial to avoid device malfunction or worse, data loss.

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (1)

What types of SD cards are there?

There are many other varietiesSD cardsavailable than ever. If you're looking for new memory cards for your digital camera, smartphone or other portable devices like Nintendo Switch and are wondering about the different titles, ratings and sizes, you've come to the right place. Location!

When exploring the range of memory cards on the market, you will most often come across three main configurations: SD memory cards, microSD cards, and compact flash memory cards. Each of these three types has many variations based on read and write speeds, size capacity, and classification.

Slower memory cards, lower class ratings, and small capacities suffice for older model phones, point-and-shoot digital cameras, and camcorders. However, when using the latest technology with robust data processing capabilities and larger file sizes, you need to choose more advanced memory cards to ensure everything works as it should.

1. SD memory card

SD stands for Secure Digital and is the basic designation for all common stamp-sized data carriers. The first SD cards could store up to 2GB of data and quickly became the most popular way of storing data for cameras.

The original version of SD memory cards with the FAT16 file system is no longer available as the technology is now obsolete. Colloquially, we still call all cards of the SD family "SD Cards".

2. SDHC memory card

SDHC stands for Secure Digital High Capacity. These cards came out in 2006 and greatly increased the potential capacity of SD cards. The technology found in SDHC cards can store up to 32GB of data, which is more than enough for many basic cameras and smaller devices.

SDHC memory cards are still in production and are extremely inexpensive as they are the most basic type of SD card on the market. They have a file system called FAT32.

3. SDXC memory card

SDXC stands for Secure Digital Extended Capacity. SDXC memory cards were developed in 2009 and once again increased storage capacity exponentially. They have a maximum capacity of up to 2TB and a file system called exFAT, and many professional photographers prefer SDXC cards for their speed and convenience.

Rather than having to change memory cards every two hundred shots, photographers can shoot upwards of thousands of images, depending on the size of the files their camera produces.

4. MicroSD memory card

You'll find microSD in smaller, more power-efficient devices like smartphones, tablets, or handheld action cameras like the GoPro. The microSD card is about the size of yours Pinkie Nail, available in a variety of speeds and capacities up to 2GB. MicroSD cards also usually come with a MicroSD to SD adapter so you can use them in a standard SD card reader or device.

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5. Micro-SDHC

SDHC cards in Micro SDHC, like the name of their full-size counterparts, stand for Secure Digital High Capacity. These tiny cards can store between 2GB and 32GB of data.

Many cell phones use Micro SDHC cards to give consumers the ability to expand their device's storage. Cell phone Micro SDHC card requirements are pretty minimal, so you can often get away with any basic version, regardless of speed or size.

6. MicroSDXC

As storage capacity technology has continued to improve, memory card manufacturers such as SanDisk, Kingston, and Lexar have leveraged upgrades to provide even more microSD-sized storage.

Micro SDXC stands for Micro Secure Digital eXtreme Capacity. These cards can contain between 32 GB and 2 TB. Drones, action cameras, 360° or VR cameras and other extreme resolution devices often use MicroSDXC cards to capture images.

Manufacturers have started to replace MicroSDXC cards with higher capacity Micro Secure Digital Ultra Capacity (SDUC) cards.

7. Compact-Flash-Karte

Compact Flash cards were the most common image storage medium for early digital cameras and DSLRs. SanDisk first developed CF card technology in 1994, and the technology has come a long way since then.

While CF cards are much rarer and more popular today, many larger DSLR cameras still use them. CF cards tend to be more expensive than SD cards, but many photographers prefer them because they are less sensitive and easier to use.

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (2)

What are the advantages of using SD cards?

There are many reasons why SD cards dominate the storage market for computers, cameras, mobile phones and other small devices. These are some of the main benefits of SD cards.

1. Physical advantages

SD cards are extremely compact and easy to carry and store. Because they're a universal size and shape, it's easy to find a variety of storage containers for them. Whether you prefer a waterproof and shockproof memory card case or a binder with cases, SD cards are small enough to carry and store as many as you like at home or on the go.

You can even use them as a replacement for portable hard drives or flash drives.

2. Solid State Technology

Another great benefit of SD cards is their solid-state technology. SD cards have no internal moving parts, so they are less prone to physical failure than other data storage methods. You don't have to worry about stress on joints or connection points.

3. Price point

SD cards are incredibly cheap. Whether you invest in cards with a very high capacity or cards with a slightly smaller capacity, you can easily take a lot of storage space with you without spending a lot of money.

When a new SD card technology comes out, prices will generally be expensive at first. However, there are so many manufacturers on the market that prices will drop significantly in a short period of time.


Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (3)

SD storage capacities and compatibility

The amount of space you need on your SD card depends a lot on what device you are using it with and what exactly you are going to create with that device. For example the files from aAudio recorderare significantly smaller than 4K video files from aVideo camera. Knowing what type of files your device creates is critical to making the right capacity decision.

If you shoot HD video or RAW photos with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you should get the highest capacity card you can afford. HD and 4K video files can be astronomically large, and RAW photos in any modern resolution can also be quite large. For other uses such as audio recording, smartphone/tablet use, or a consumer point-and-shoot camera that captures JPEG images, a smaller SD card will suffice.

Speed ​​classes of SD and micro SD cards

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (4)

What do we mean when we talk about speed class ratings? First, let's talk about data read speeds and write speeds.

As camera technology improved, memory card manufacturers needed a way to demonstrate the speed capabilities of their memory cards. Luckily, the speed rating is standardized, so consumers always know what to expect when investing in new memory cards.

The SD Association is the international organization formed to uphold these fundamental standards for SD cards and micro SD cards.

Three main classifications for SD cards

There are three main classifications for all SD cards, regardless of manufacturer. These classes are Speed ​​Class, UHS Speed ​​Class, and Video Speed ​​Class. We'll go into more detail about the UHS speed class in a moment, since it's the speed class most commonly used by photographers. But first, let's examine the original classification of SD cards.

Speed ​​Class is the original rating and is denoted by a large "C" symbol. Within Class C are C2 (Class 2), C4 (Class 4), C6 (Class 6), and C10 (Class 10). In each of these classes, the minimum writing speed is represented by the number in the name. For example, C2 has a minimum write speed of 2MB/s while C10 has a minimum write speed of 10MB/s.

If you still have old Class C cards in your camera bag, you might be tempted to recycle them in favor of newer, faster memory cards. However, if you are using an older camera or camcorder, it may not be necessary to swap out your cards. However, if you're trying to capture video at 4K or higher resolution, it's time to refresh your cards.

The speed of the card you buy is really one of the most important considerations when buying an SD card and is often overlooked by those unfamiliar with SD speed class ratings. It may seem complicated at first glance, but it's actually quite easy to understand.

U1 vs. U3 SD cards

With so many symbols, numbers, and specifications listed on SD card labels, it can be difficult to keep track of what they mean and how important they are for specific applications. For example, U1 cards used to be the best, but now U3 cards are more common.

U1 and U3 refer to the writing speed of the cards. U1 can write up to 10MB/s while U3 can write up to 30MB/s. That's quite a difference considering the size of most image and video files created by modern cameras. Cameras capable of creating very high-resolution images while shooting in high-speed burst mode and 4K video will work more efficiently with U3 speed cards, but for entry-level SLRs and point-and-shoots, U1 is the way to go usually sufficient.

It can also be helpful to check your camera's specs to see if your camera manufacturer prefers one SD card speed or another. With cameras increasing in capacity and resolution, it's always a good idea to buy the best cards available for future use.


U110 MB/sUseful for: 1080p video, RAW and JPEG images
U330 MB/SecUseful for: 4K video, RAW images captured in high-speed burst mode

UHs 1 vs class 10

Class 10 is the maximum speed available for an older type of SD card technology. Since 2009, UHS technology has become more widespread. It uses a newer data bus technology found in modern cameras. To use a UHS card, your camera must have UHS technology. When it comes to write speeds, UHS 1 and Class 10 are equally fast with a minimum write speed of 10MB/s. Since the speeds are identical, the choice between UHS1 and Class 10 cards depends on the card type your camera supports.

SD Cards U3 vs Class 10 vs U1

The U1 and U3 cards are compatible with the UHS transfer bus used in newer devices. Sometimes you will also see a card that is U1 and class 10. That means if the card is used on a standard high speed data bus it will work at class 10 speed but if used on a UHS bus it will work. at U1 speed. As mentioned above, the speed is generally 10 MB/s for both cases.

At this speed, the U1 and Class 10 cards are ideal for professional still cameras that capture RAW photos and HD video up to 1080p. This is a great speed to buy if you're looking for a balance between compatibility with your current gear and future use.

For 4K-capable and higher-resolution cameras capable of high-speed burst shooting, the U3 is generally the safest choice for consistently fast performance with no lag.

Other types of SD cards

2nd grade

The slowest class currently available, these cards are best suited for consumer-class point-and-shoot cameras, audio recording, and low-resolution SD video recording.

Class 4 and 6

These cards are 'middle of the road' in terms of speed and work well with still cameras that capture JPEG files and some very light 720p HD video.

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (5)

SD card security considerations

No matter how much storage space and speed you get from your SD cards, it's important to have a system that protects your data from physical compromise, time-related degradation, and data theft.

The size of SD cards makes them easy to store, but they are also easily lost. Consider potential hazards when planning your storage and protection systems.

When shopping, make sure to invest in well-tested SD cards from well-known manufacturers. The best brands in the photography industry have a vested interest in offering high-quality, durable SD cards that don't cause widespread data loss.

Disable write protection

The only moving part of an SD card is the toggle switch on the left that toggles write protection on and off. If you're ever worried about accidentally formatting an SD card that contains important data or images, you can flip the switch to the locked position.

Only full-size SD cards contain the write-protect switch. So if you hope to make a microSD card read-only, you need to use software to prevent your data from being overwritten or erased.

If you notice your toggle switch becoming too stiff or loose, it may be time to replace your board.

Protect with password

Although it is possible to password protect an SD card or microSD card like any other flash drive or hard drive, this is not usually a built-in feature. You must use encryption software with your Windows, iOS, or Android device.

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Windows 10, 8, and 7 come with a software tool called Bitlocker that makes encrypting SD cards relatively easy, but you'll need to format your card before encrypting it, so be sure to do so if you're buying a new card for the first time . Android devices make it easy to encrypt external SD cards through the Security Settings menu, but the process varies by device and system version.

smart SD cards

Smart SD cards are microSD cards with built-in SE and NFC capabilities. They feature similar technology to the contactless chip on your credit or debit card. They are not necessarily suitable for use in cameras and camcorders, but Smart SD cards are excellent for use in mobile phones.

With an integrated Smart SD card, you can use your phone for contactless payments at merchants, transit systems and for secure entry with NFC-controlled door locks.

If you're a photographer looking to improve your mobile workflow with a Smart SD card, a Wi-Fi enabled SD card is a great alternative. This way you can access your images with your smartphone or laptop with an integrated app.

SDIO cards

SDIO cards are unique and are like a cross between an SD card and a minicomputer. They provide data storage and computing or application functionality. SDIO cards can be connected to Bluetooth adapters, GPS receivers and a variety of other devices.

SDIO cards haven't gained popularity because they don't work with just any SD card slot. Also, any devices they would use, such as e.g. smartphones, via other methods of delivering Bluetooth and GPS technology.

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (6)

How often do SD cards need to be replaced?

You should replace SD cards at the first sign of problems or every 2-3 years of regular use. This is because SD cards are prone to physical damage and wear and tear. They're a great temporary storage solution, but only for capturing and transferring to another device like a hard drive.

Here are some situations to consider.

physical damage

While it's painful to replace an expensive, high-capacity card like an SDXC UHS-ii or Samsung EVO Plus card, losing footage after a shoot is even worse. Replace your card if you notice any warping, cracks or tears on the sides, scratches or nicks at the contact points, or damaged holes, creases, or dividers between the contact points.

degradation over time

Many people ask if the cards degrade over time. If you format your cards properly in the camera and take good care of your memory cards, they should last a few years. However, that doesn't mean memory cards are a good long-term storage solution for your photos. SD cards do not store data for more than a maximum of 5 years, so it is best to use them as temporary storage.

How to choose an SD card: conclusion

Choosing the right SD card for your device is vital to ensure you get the best performance from your device and to avoid any kind of glitches or data loss. A card that is too small could fill up and leave you with no free space when you need it most. A card that is too slow can cause your device to freeze when trying to write files and potentially lose those files forever. Know your needs, find the right card, and your device will thank you.

Choosing the right SD card: What do the numbers mean? - 42 West (7)


Adorama's 42West is the content destination for photographers, filmmakers, audio creatives and everything electronics related. Check out our breaking editorial coverage of the latest gadgets, how-to guides and interviews with the most relevant experts in today's industry.

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